In the beginning was the word and the word was God. Many other words that aren’t God though, seem to have great potential for highjacking my neurophysiology. Monitoring my brain and body in response to words people say is a pretty challenging practice, as you might guess. Words people say, especially people with whom I share energetic/ emotional threads, can show up like that hungry cougar from a few weeks back, determined to put a pit bull bite on my leg. Of course it’s rarely the words themselves that have any power; it’s the way they affect my brain and trigger the threat chemicals – adrenaline and cortisol – that are the real underlying challenge. It’s always my own neurophysiology that I need to take Radical Accountability for learning to skillfully regulate.
My aging body has greatly diminished my hearing these days, so that helps in not taking things people say personally – when I don’t hear them, my body doesn’t react. Still it continues to be a challenging practice. Take last week for example: Alice, a friend and I were talking over lunch one day about how I went to dinner one night with a different mutual friend, Eleanor and her mother. Then the next day Eleanor decided – because of an email I wrote that she took to mean the exact opposite of both what I meant and what it actually said – to break off all further contact with me (funny how traumatic memories can overlay and so powerfully distort things we read or hear).
Well, friends who don’t have the inner resources to make themselves available to work through misunderstandings aren’t great candidates for answering the Big Brain Question in any kind of consistent, empowering way, especially should the chips ever really be down. So, as Byron Katie likes to say, this friend, Eleanor deciding to abandon our friendship meant “I had been spared.”
Nevertheless, this abandonment really pained me. As I explored it over lunch in real time with Alice, two things surfaced. One was the abandonment at age 4 by my father. This loss is one I have squeezed most of the juice out of over the years; it resonated, but not very strongly with Eleanor bailing (although other relationship ruptures with women have powerfully triggered the disorganization of Dad’s abandonment).
But then over lunch with Alice, suddenly a memory of Karen Frankel popped up. Karen Frankel was the little girl who lived upstairs from me when I was three years old and living on Pearl Street in New Haven, Connecticut. We would go with our mothers to the neighborhood park several times a week and play. I loved playing with Karen. She was three and great fun. What’s not to love? But then one week, we simply stopped playing. I didn’t recall any of the reasons why, all I remembered over lunch with Alice was this feeling of great sadness and vulnerability at no longer having my best friend to play with anymore. It felt like the very first death in my family – an energetic withdrawal of all life force. Where neurons in my body and brain used to wirelessly connect to Karen’s bio-energy, now the signal was coming back with zero bars. Just like it was with Eleanor: Psyche’s descent into soma – healing trying to happen – the unconscious compulsion to try and integrate and resolve a painful long-distant memory was showing up in real time in my neurophysiology.
Which was fine. No real cougars in sight. Until later that afternoon, in my still vulnerable and tender state, fresh from surfacing Karen’s abandonment, I made a casual remark to Alice, and she snapped at me! And then turned away and refused to respond to anything I put out towards her. Suddenly the playmate who abandoned me more than a half century ago, was once again fully alive and repeating the same energetic abandonment in the moment! Now the cougar suddenly did have my leg. What to do?
Well, it’s rarely a good idea to attempt to resolve emotional issues in the midst of an already emotionally engaged day. The next day though, both Alice and I began to gently and kindly speak and listen to all that had gone on the day before. It took some deep listening and a close monitoring of bad words looking to impulsively escape, but we got through it and repaired the rift.
Later I went searching the Internet for Karen, whom it turns out is a successful civil rights law professor in Boston. I can’t imagine she’s retained much of her early ability for play. I had, at age 3, apparently also been spared.